Reality is clearly something to be avoided to be dressed up in tattery, tied in ribbons, perfumed, yet its fetid stench is always lurking in the background waiting to pierce your nostrils in an incautious moment until you retch and bring up the bile that marks the darker moments of your life, the kind that lingers in the throat which no chocolate can erase. Reality is often ugly, so we ignore it or hide it behind masks, or offer it willingly to others, a gift in surfeit. It sneaks up on you, and sets its hook periodically, and thrashes you at will, the barb tears through new flesh, setting itself deeper, intractable. You and I are dying, as I write, as you read, an ugly thought particularly lying in bed staring into darkness, no motion or sound from your spouse, mate, paramour, friend, significant other or teddy bear, where God is too busy to respond at the moment and sleep is perched in the bleachers, held back by the usher for want of a ticket stub, content to watch the game from afar. I cast ink to paper, an offer of reality as though the divorce from the words will erase the little pains and anguishes of our ever distancing marriage, while holding vainly onto the warm and sweet, the far side of the Mobius of reality (the skunk is at once ugly and soft and caring). We write of pain, of ugliness, of anger at terrible lengths, or weave tapestries of words to cover the flawed, stained walls of our minds, like so many happy endings, requisite in the script. Basho knew only too well that truth of beauty should be captured in few syllables.
First Appeared in Chaminade Literary Review, Vols. 16-17, Fall 1995.
Outside the door nestled in the tall grass white, a plume gossamer, a gift perhaps from a sky finally blue or a tear for the summer’s departure, or, perhaps, a promise, down payment on the freedom from gravity long sought never attained.
The river ignores us for yet another day, flowing despite our presence, knowing the lake awaits. As the rain lets up, the sun appears and sets the water ablaze demanding our attention and we gladly give it. As our jacket shed the last of the cloudy gifts, the wind reminds us that this moment is one we will not ever see again.
It is a burden he does not want to bear any longer, one he would shed in a moment, but there is no place to put it and you cannot just leave it anywhere. And so he continues to bear it dragging it here, carrying it there, always attached to it, and it to him. He knows there are others who bear far heavier burdens, some with a smile, others begrudgingly. He would gladly take up their burdens, if he could only be relieved of his, but he cannot find anyone to take his, and so he smiles and goes on, for everyone wants something and he has only nothing to offer although that is the greatest gift, for it is the gift of Buddha.
A reflection on Shūmon kattōshū Case 6 – Zhaozhou’s “Drop It”